“Photography is magic,” says Jan Sonnenmair. “I love being in the middle of things or lost in the middle of nowhere, capturing real moments and preserving them forever.”
Jan may have taken a lot of photos in her time, with stints in photojournalism for some of the top magazines like Time, Newsweek and People, but it’s her images of children that are truly timeless. With a warmth and personal touch that capture the moment, her images evoke a sense of personality that is universally appealing. She has a knack for connecting with her subjects.
As a matter of style, Jan has adopted the “bokeh” look, a shallow-focus technique used to create images with prominent out-of-focus regions. (Bokeh comes from the Japanese word for “blur” or “haze.”) She also breaks some traditional rules by shooting into a strong backlight, which blows out the background. Much of her magic happens in the lens, but back at her computer, there’s still a place to work some magic with her Intuos4 pen tablet.
In particular, Jan appreciates her pen tablet when it comes to opening up faces and brightening details, like eyes and teeth. She says, “The tablet lets me be so exact, defining small spaces, dodging and burning areas of an image and adding warmth.”
Can anyone learn to capture a moment behind the lens and bring out the best of an image in Photoshop? It takes skill and a little experience, but to Jan, it takes a willingness to be in the moment.
“We go on family vacation every year,” she says. “The kids go out to play and I am lucky enough to be there to photograph them.” With her authentic photography and pen tablet skills, Jan invites everyone to be in the moment.
Use a Curves adjustment layer to darken the background and edges, directing the focus of the image more on the girl. Set the Opacity Jitter (in the Brush Settings palette) to Pen Pressure. Then paint on the attached layer mask with a large, soft edge brush, applying heavy pressure where a more visible “burn” effect is desired, and lighter pressure for a more subtle effect.
Use another Curves adjustment layer to brighten things up and increase the contrast a bit around the girl and center of the image. With Opacity Jitter set to Pen Pressure, use a large, soft-edge brush to brush in the effects. The pressure sensitivity of the pen makes it a snap to selectively apply the layer effects with subtlety and control, creating seamless soft edges and natural blends between the tonal adjustments.
Next, apply a more pronounced Levels adjustment layer to make the girl “pop” even more against the background. Fill the attached layer mask with black, then show the mask by pressing the backslash key. Now, selectively apply the levels adjustment to the girl’s face and immediate surrounding area with a medium size soft-edge brush. The manipulation of masks and selections is key in Photoshop and best accomplished with the delicate control of the pen tablet.
Finally, apply the finishing detail by adding a little more snap in her smile. Add another layer and change the layer mode to Soft Light. Then, using a small, soft-edge brush, paint with white to dodge her teeth, making them lighter and whiter, and creating a little more contrast in her wonderful smile.